The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The King of Diamonds Affair”

This episode features perhaps the most obnoxious opening sequence in the history of the series, in which a young woman bites into a slice of pudding in a London tearoom and dissolves into ear-shredding histrionics when she breaks her tooth on a piece of glass. A customer points out that the glass is actually an uncut diamond, whereupon all the female customers and waitresses gasp and swoon and drop plates in astonishment. It’s grating and frenetic and juuuuuuust on the cusp of offensiveness, and it made me predisposed to loathe the episode.

And then the rest of the episode turns out to be perfectly innocuous and occasionally charming (I mean, it has Ricardo Montalban in it), but man, that opening sequence is dire.

Illya and Napoleon pop up at Pogue’s Pudding Shop in London and introduce themselves to the snippy proprietor, Victoria Pogue (Nancy Kovack, sporting a dodgy English accent). More diamonds were found in other puddings from Pogue’s; at the suggestion her puddings have been tampered with by an unsavory element, Victoria throws a hissyfit and throws Napoleon and Illya out of her shop. Yeah, the female characters in this episode are not scripted with an especially adept touch, I’ll just say that.

Upon leaving the shop, Napoleon and Illya find themselves pursued by a cluster of dark-suited men in bowler hats. A chase ensues, which ends when Napoleon crashes his rental car (a Rolls, because apparently Mr. Waverly has loosened the notoriously tight U.N.C.L.E. purse strings) into a storefront.

In U.N.C.L.E.’s London headquarters, a battered and bruised Illya and Napoleon touch bases with Mr. Waverly. Apparently the world diamond market has been recently flooded with a mysterious influx of stones; in the interest of keeping the world’s economy stable, U.N.C.L.E. is attempting to uncover the source of the diamonds. While they discuss the situation, an attractive female agent tends to their injuries, because highly-trained spies have nothing better to do than dab Illya’s fevered brow and give him lingering neck rubs while Napoleon seethes in abject jealousy.

Illya and Napoleon visit Mr. Peacock, owner of one of the world’s biggest diamond mines. Peacock takes them on a tour of his high-security vault and assures them the mysterious diamonds couldn’t possibly have come from his stash.

Having crashed the Rolls in the pre-credits sequence, the boys tool around London in an itty-bitty convertible. Napoleon, who has no sense of personal boundaries, spends most of the trip essentially perched in Illya’s lap.

That car is crazy small. David McCallum is a dainty little man, and even he can barely fit in the driver’s seat.

They head to Dartmoor Prison to consult with an inmate, notorious jewel thief Rafael Delgado (Ricardo Montalban, effortlessly charming as always). Posing as a pair of slick Hollywood moguls, they shamelessly flatter Delgado while claiming to be researching a film based on his exploits. They wheedle Delgado for suggestions as to how to steal diamonds from Mr. Peacock’s vault; Delgado genially plays along with the charade for a while, then reveals that he pegged them as spies from the start and boots them out of his cell. It’s one of the most reliable and endearing elements of this show: No matter what their cover story, no matter what their disguises, Napoleon and Illya never manage to fool anybody. Ever. Everyone always immediately assume they’re spies. Inept, incompetent, utterly charming spies.

Acting upon the diamond-stealing tips gleaned from Delgado, they don adorable jumpsuits and flat caps and crawl through the sewers. They break into Peacock’s vault from beneath it (Illya whips out a stethoscope and does some stellar safecracking, which leads Napoleon to yet again purr, “Smart Russian”), whereupon they discover all of the diamonds have been stolen and replaced with ball bearings.

Mr. Peacock confesses that he noticed the theft of his diamonds several weeks ago, but kept quiet out of fear of panicking the world diamond market. Suspecting Delgado somehow masterminded the theft of the diamonds from his cell, Illya and Napoleon head back to the prison, only to find Delgado missing, thanks to a mobster named Blodgett (repeat guest star Larry D. Mann), who’d originally hired Delgado to steal the diamonds. Blodgett has been smuggling the stolen diamonds to Rio by hiding them inside tins of Pogue’s Pudding; his inside man at Victoria’s shop messed up the delivery and sent tins of plain pudding to Brazil instead. Delgado offers to use his formidable charm to sort the whole situation out.

So Delgado heads to Victoria’s shop and absolutely drenches her in charm. Ricardo Montalban, man. I saw Montalban once in person, at the premiere of a musical at his namesake theater in Hollywood, and even though he was in his eighties at the time, frail and moving with the aid of a walker after a debilitating stroke, he was still every inch a star.

While Victoria is distracted, Delgado accosts her stockroom clerk, Wambley (Ashley Cowan), and accuses him of messing up the shipments. When Napoleon arrives at the shop, Wambley smuggles Delgado out through a secret back exit. In a panic, Wambley knocks Napoleon unconscious and stuffs both Napoleon and Victoria into a shipping carton, which is loaded onto a plane bound for Rio.

Outside the shop, Illya gets into a skirmish with Blodgett’s goons, who leave him for dead in the alley. He staggers back to London headquarters, then spends the rest of the episode nursing a sore head while whining bitterly about how miserable he feels. Fortitude, thy name is Illya Kuryakin.

Napoleon and Victoria regain consciousness in the shipping crate on Blodgett’s Rio-bound plane. Having nothing better to do during a long overseas flight, they snog for a while.

Upon arriving in Rio, they’re discovered by Blodgett, who orders his goons to shoot them. Delgado intervenes, suggesting a far more gimmicky fate: He recommends strapping them across the mouths of cannons and blowing them to pieces. 

Blodgett thinks this is a stellar idea, and sends his goons to search for appropriate cannons. Delgado, having double-crossed Blodgett by swiping all the diamonds for himself, rescues Napoleon and Victoria. Blodgett interrupts their escape attempt and commands his goons to execute them all via cannons.

A still-ailing Illya flies to Rio, then dons one of his signature ingenious disguises to save Napoleon:

I do appreciate the wide variety of terrible disguises in this episode.

Before Napoleon, Victoria, and Delgado can be blown apart by cannons, Illya charges to the rescue. In the resulting messy gun battle, Delgado is fatally wounded. He’s philosophic about his imminent death, claiming he has nothing left to live for: “Not ever could I hope to top the Peacock diamond masterpiece!”

In a café somewhere in Rio, Illya, Napoleon and Victoria drink fruity cocktails and toast to Delgado. Mr. Waverly pops up out of nowhere, having decided to take a spontaneous Rio vacation, and swans off with Victoria on his arm, leaving Illya and Napoleon to glumly contemplate their cocktails. It’s an ending that makes approximately as much sense as anything that happened in the fifty minutes preceding it.

Unfathomably silly. Still, I’m not going to hate on any episode that ends with our two beautiful nitwits slurping down fruity cocktails on a beach in Rio. Some might call it paradise.


vintagehoarder said…
My favourite thing about this episode (apart from Ricardo Montalban, of course) are the scenes where Illya (wearing his Ingenious Disguise) climbs up and down walls and over roofs to rescue Napoleon. There's something extremely appealing about Illya when he's at his most athletic and cat-like.
Morgan Richter said…
Oh, yes. I love seeing Illya scale walls and jump off of things. Vaughn never really got the hang of doing stunts, but McCallum was a natural.
Except for the dodgy accents and pretending an MGM set is London this is one of those goods episodes that I tend to overlook. I enjoyed the slightly Avengersesque bowler hats, the mist on Dartmoor, the identical cars chasing our boys round London. I loved poor Illya's ever present headache and his general disgruntlement at his job at times. And Napoleon being unable to sit in a car properly without rubbing himself all over Illya, of course.
Morgan Richter said…
This episode is all about Napoleon not respecting Illya's personal space in the front seat of a car. But the Avengersesque bowler hats are also a nice touch, yes.
M'lady said…
So firstly the fake English accentspeaking are so painful to listen too. Obviously from the dick van dyke school of accents.
Secondly that's a very clean sewer.
Thirdly illya gets shot yet he wakes up with just a headache. I don't understand?

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